How Suncorp was able to build an app in a year

Suncorp's enterprise architect discusses the processes that enabled the organisation to build an app and its underlying infrastructure in 12 months.

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Suncorp is currently on the seventh incremental release of its app, with the organisation constantly adding new functionalities. While the organisation expects to deploy a new major release next month, Suncorp put in the hard yards a few years ago to change its business processes to future-proof its app.

Suncorp developed its app in one year -- from July 2017 through July 2018.

Speaking at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development, and Integration Summit in Sydney last week, Suncorp enterprise architect Dalton Cranston explained the organisation's learnings from the 12-month project.

He explained that from an IT perspective, Suncorp already used a distributed model approach across line of business teams and Technology Data Labs (TDL) delivery, which allowed the organisation to start on the right foot.

"These dedicated TDL teams aligned to particular lines of business or distribution that do the work in their particular area -- the TDL department itself has been using agile approaches for a number of years," he explained.

"So whilst we have undertaken the development of this app, a large number of transformational things both organisationally and from a technology perspective, agile was already there, and we used it to drive many of the behaviours we see today."

Cranston said that before the app, Suncorp already had a "wide digital service area", which allowed customers to buy and service products across all of its brands.

"But those tended to be brand-specific applications or websites or digital interactions. It was a key part of our overall digital transformation to support Suncorp's broader customer experience and digital objectives," he said, noting that a key goal in improving experience was to allow customers to view and manage all of their product holdings in the one place.

"For example, the Property Explorer mixes our risk and flood data with core logic data to provide property and suburb insights. And for the Dollar Tracker, our data science teams also provide transactional data insights on spending patterns and all of these are delivered in a consistent API fashion back to the application."

In preparing for the app, Cranston said Suncorp conducted a number of innovation days, called FedEx Days, and hackathons. It also built a reference hackathon platform in its digital labs that he said provided a platform for people to conduct experiments on.

Suncorp also conducted a lot of research.

"We looked at best practice organisations developing API strategy ... like Amazon, of course, and international financial service innovators, such as BBVA and Capital One, people that had been on a different journey, but trying to tackle similar concepts," he said.

See also: 100 million Americans and 6 million Canadians caught up in Capital One breach

It also reviewed international customer data regulation trends like the UK's Open Baking regime, Europe's GDPR, and PSD2 regulations, as well as the Australian Consumer Data Right (CDR), which was only passed last week. The organisation also analysed global Fintech trends.

"We had been experimenting in our labs with a number of Fintechs and how they may interplay with the organisation themselves," Cranston added.

"Once we did all of that, and we have a lot of digital assets. So not only did we build the app of the year, we built the underlying infrastructure, and the mechanisms and governance associated with that work in that year."

He said Suncorp also had a very wide set of digital assets stitched together to perform a "cohesive whole", rather than an "integrated whole", like the Suncorp app is.

"It's a relatively significant undertaking to build an app and in a new way, use an API first approach, and on the one year, so there's a lot of things that had done even before we undertook that journey to support the organisation's approach," he continued.

"We had been working on, on a number of general fronts, to improve and digitise our customer experiences -- that's a long term journey that we've been on."

Cranston said Suncorp had a very aggressive time to market, and that thinking about design first with lightweight governance worked well for the organisation under this context.

"You should start with clear design principles and make sure that buy in from all stakeholders from the product owners to the developers and the time to market can be used positively. But [it also] needs to be painted and tempered with some practical notions," he said, offering advice to others.

"We had a lot of learnings around bringing together a disparate organisation into one cohesive whole that produced one app that does everything. So we learned a lot around the test and release process and coordinated release data."

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